Herd check: USDA finds out what’s happening on U.S. dairies


WASHINGTON – The USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System conducted a survey of U.S. dairy operations in 2002.

The survey was conducted in 21 major dairy states to study animal health in dairy operations.

Holsteins were the most prevalent breed on the majority of operations (95.6 percent) and accounted for 93.4 percent of dairy cows.

Jerseys were the next most common breed, found on 17 percent of operations, but accounted for only 3.6 percent of all dairy cows.

Keeping records. The percent of herds on DHI test was 44.8 percent accounting for 50.2 percent of cows.

Approximately 19 percent of herds had on-farm computer record systems, with Dairy Comp 305, PC DART, and DHI PLUS being the most common.

The rolling herd average of all herds was 18,235 pounds of milk per cow.

Rolling herd average increased as herd size increased and herds greater than 500 cows averaged 21,902 pounds.

Average days dry was 60.6 and age at first calving was 25.4 months.

More than half (54.9 percent) of the farms surveyed still used a bull in their breeding program.

TMR-production connection? Overall, 47 percent of operations fed a total mixed ration (TMR). This was 90.2 percent for herds over 500 cows, and only 36.6 percent for herds less than 100 cows.

Higher-producing herds were more likely to use a TMR, and 65.7 percent of herds over 20,000 pounds of milk per cow used this method of feeding.

“These results demonstrate the acceptance of the total mixed ration for supplying a consistent, high quality ration to lactating cows,” said Charles Stallings, dairy nutritionist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Forage testing. More than 70 percent of operations used forage test results to balance rations. Eighty-eight percent of herds of greater than 500 cows tested feeds vs. 66 percent for smaller herds.

The good news, Stallings said, is the majority of herds, regardless of herd size, recognized this practice as being important.

BST use. Bovine somatotropin (bST) was used in 15.2 percent of operations representing 22.3 percent of cows.

In herds over 500 cows, more than 50 percent were using bST vs. 8.8 percent of herds under 100 cows. There tended to be more herds in the West using bST than in the Midwest, Northeast, or Southeast.

Average days in milk before initial dose was administrated were 81, indicating producers were adhering to the products label.

Pasture use. Pasture was not used for lactating cows in 52.4 percent of operations, but 32.5 percent used pasture and moved cows at least once a week.

Fifteen percent used pasture but did not move cows frequently.

Oral drenching at time of calving was done on 20.1 percent of operations.

This drench is typically an energy source such as propylene glycol or calcium propionate and is used to reduce energy deficits and improve milk production in early lactation.

Each herd unique. “These results reinforce the idea that there is more than one way to be profitable in the dairy business,” Virginia Tech’s Stallings said.

“Even the most established concepts such as forage testing and TMR feeding are not practiced on all operations,” Stallings observed. “Every herd is unique with its own unique set of constraints.”


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